Slay the Spire (PC Preview)

Slay the Spire from Mega Crit is an interesting fusion of the ever-popular rogue like genre and deck building card games. I’m a huge fan of deck building games, but I’ve never played a video game that scratches the same itch as the ones I own physical copies of. That hole in my life has finally been filled by this wonderful little indie Early Access title.

When you begin your journey through Slay the Spire, you have access to one character, the Ironclad. Like all deck building games, you start with a simple deck consisting of basic attack and block cards. You can obtain new, more powerful cards by winning battles, facing random encounters and simply buying them from the merchants scattered throughout the tower.

Like any good rogue like, the game you’ll play is randomly generated each time, so no two runs are identical. You’ll also die an awful lot, another key feature of the genre. As of the time of writing this, I had successfully completed two runs as each character available, and lost around 33 times across my 24 hours of gameplay.

Combat in Slay the Spire is one of those ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ concepts, and to be an engaging enough rogue like to keep you coming back for more, the gameplay has to have a really gripping core. Slay the Spire delivers this in spades. You and your opponents take turns bashing each others heads in. On your turn, you decide which cards to play from your hand. Cards fall in to different categories, such as Attacks, Skills and Powers, and cost varying amounts of energy, from zero to four. The number of cards you can play per turn is determined by how much energy you have available. You start each run with 3 energy, but there are a few ways to gain more.

Your cards have two main effects; Damaging your opponents, and Guarding your precious health total. Some cards do both, and others still do neither but provide a different effect, such as increasing your characters Strength or inflicting Poison on an enemy. The idea in each combat scenario is to tactically choose which cards to use in order to drop your opponents health to 0 without yours hitting 0 first. To help you in this, your enemies’ Intentions are shown above their head, broadcasting what they intend to do with their turn.

Each battle you win will earn you not only Gold to spend at the various merchants dotted across the Spire, but also allow you to add new cards to your deck. Picking up new cards is the best way to power up your deck, and allows you to explore a wide range of different strategies. It’s this strategic depth that lets you attempt run after run of Slay the Spire, each time trying something slightly different. Experimentation is key to success.

It’s not just fighting and crafting your deck you need to worry about as you climb the Spire. No, what kind of rogue like would this be if there wasn’t some good old fashioned luck involved? When you’re not battling your way through the many baddies the Spire has to offer, you can take on events. Events will generally offer you some sort of trade, like taking damage to remove a card from your deck or giving up HP in favour of a powerful buff or bonus.

As you put hour after hour in to Slay the Spire, you’re rewarded with an immense amount of knowledge to keep track of. You’ll learn attack patterns, what decks are the strongest and which are the most fun. Like a lot of rogue likes, the game can feel overbearingly difficult at times, but it rarely feels unfair. Still, gamers without the patience or mindset to suffer defeat after defeat will struggle to reach that ever-so rewarding first time that you claim victory.

Even after you reach the point where you’re able to semi-regularly complete a run, there are Daily Challenges that keep the gameplay fresh and new, all the while letting you put your score on a leaderboard to compete with players from around the world. The Daily Challenges shake things up a bit and have big, often game changing effects active from the beginning of the game, such as replacing your starting deck with 50 random cards, or causing more mini-bosses to spawn, but they drop more powerful rewards.

One downside to the Daily Challenges is that you can only submit your score to the leaderboard once, and every subsequent run doesn’t count as far as the contest is concerned. At the moment, there’s no reward for placing well in the Daily Challenge but it feels like a waste at times when you’re not able to improve yourself on the leaderboard. You can certainly retry the challenge, however.

Slay the Spire has that key ingredient that can make a rogue like a real classic; it’s utterly addictive. I found myself thinking about it at work, in the shower, when I was eating dinner, and dreaming about it. There’s a detailed patch each week from the very active developers, Seattle based Mega Crit. Each patch brings with it various community-requested buffs and nerfs, as well as constant updates to the content and interfaces.

With an eagerly anticipated third character on the horizon, Slay the Spire has a bright future ahead. Mega Crit may be in the process of making themselves a house hold name with this wonderful title, and fans of strategic game play, the rogue like genre, or deck building games in general owe it to themselves to try and Slay the Spire.

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